Cummings: Sleepers 1.0 | Breakouts 1.0 | Busts 1.0
Every year we try to bring you a few versions of sleepers, breakouts and busts. As the NFL offseason changes, so does the outlook for players, and we like to keep up with the times.
Back in early April, here were the 12 players that I highlighted in Sleepers 1.0:
- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
- Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
- Duke Johnson, RB, Browns
- Alfred Morris, RB, Cowboys
- Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers
- Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons
- Kevin White, WR, Bears
- Phillip Dorsett, WR, Colts
- Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Titans
- Marvin Jones, WR, Lions
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Buccaneers
- Eric Ebron, TE, Lions
As for the rest of those guys, I like Tannehill and Cutler with late-round fliers as No. 2 quarterbacks who have the chance to emerge as starters. Johnson and Sims have plenty of upside, especially in PPR leagues, and Coleman could be a steal even as the backup to Devonta Freeman to open the season.
White, Dorsett and Green-Beckham are three of my favorite mid- to late-round receivers to target, and Jones has big shoes to fill in Detroit with Calvin Johnson gone, which is also a great opportunity for him. Seferian-Jenkins and Ebron also could emerge as Top 10 tight ends.
For Sleepers 2.0 we took the same approach with players you could target with mid- to late-round picks who could become starters. Obviously not all of these players are going to be successful, but you should have a minimal investment in them with the chance for a huge reward.
And that's the hope when you select a sleeper on Draft Day.
Romo is going to be drafted late this season coming off his injury-plagued 2015 when he broke his collarbone twice and was limited to four games. He's older now at 36 and many wonder if he can return to the same level he showed as recently as 2014 when he was the No. 8 Fantasy quarterback in standard leagues with 3,705 passing yards, 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions. There are also some doubts about Dez Bryant because of last year's foot injury and if Elliott will steal the show on offense. Well, Bryant is expected to be fine for Week 1, and Romo performed at a high level two seasons ago when DeMarco Murray was the No. 1 running back in the NFL. Romo has arguably the best offensive line in the NFL in front of him a solid receiving corps with Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and Elliott out of the backfield. He should return as a Top 10 quarterback in the majority of leagues, and we love the value he brings with a mid- to late-round pick. Quarterback is deep, so if Romo falters or gets hurt you should easily find a capable backup. But we expect Romo to thrive now that his injury-plagued 2015 is behind him.
Like Romo, Rivers is going late in drafts, but he also should provide tremendous value. Eli Manning is another quarterback in this category that owners tend to settle for, but they always seem to deliver quality production. That's been the case for Rivers the past three seasons when he finished as the No. 3 Fantasy quarterback in standard leagues in 2013, No. 12 in 2014 and No. 12 last year. He averaged 4,519 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions over that span, and this should be one of the best years of his career. He's reunited with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who had the same position during Rivers' big season in 2013, and this should be an excellent receiving corps. Keenan Allen is back at 100 percent following last year's kidney injury, Antonio Gates was re-signed and the Chargers added a deep threat in Travis Benjamin via free agency from Cleveland. Danny Woodhead and Steve Johnson are also standout complementary options, and we still don't know if the running game or defense will again leave Rivers throwing until his arm falls off (he attempted a league-high 661 passes in 2015 and averaged 592 attempts the past three years). We see Rivers once again finishing as a Top 12 quarterback in all leagues -- and the Top 10 is well within reach. Let him fall in your lap on Draft Day, and you should be more than happy with the results.
It's hard to imagine calling Gore a sleeper given his career, but he was a bust last season in his first year with the Colts. He's also 33 and clearly on the downside of his career. But it's not fair to judge Gore - or any of the Colts for that matter -- based on what happened in 2015 when Andrew Luck missed eight games due to injury, which threw this entire offense out of whack. Luck is back at 100 percent, and the Colts added two offensive lineman in the draft (center Ryan Kelly in Round 1 and tackle Le'Raven Clark in Round 3). Indianapolis also did nothing to threaten Gore's role as the lead back, with Robert Turbin the backup and only undrafted rookie free agent Josh Ferguson added following the draft. Now, we don't have huge expectations for Gore, and the last running back age 33 or older to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season was John Riggins in 1984. But at his expected Average Draft Position, which could be in Round 7 in most formats, he's well worth the price. And despite how bad last season was for him, he still finished as the No. 12 Fantasy running back in standard leagues with 260 carries for 967 yards and six touchdowns and 34 catches for 267 yards and one touchdown. If he stays healthy and Luck plays 16 games, we could easily see Gore get at least 1,200 total yards and seven touchdowns again. The goal would be seeing him to do it in a more consistent manner this year.
The Bills remain committed to LeSean McCoy as their starter this season, but Williams is going to get an extended workload, which he deserves. Last year as a rookie, only Thomas Rawls at 5.7 yards per carry had a better rushing average than Williams at 5.6 of running backs with at least 90 carries. Williams finished with 517 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and 11 catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. He had double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league six times and scored at least eight points in eight games, and he only played in 11 games due to a shoulder injury and a concussion. And he only had three games with more than 10 touches, which shows his explosiveness. McCoy battled injuries in 2015 as well, missing four games with hamstring and knee problems, and if he misses any time this season then Williams could become a star. We don't want this to become a full-blown tandem because that would be bad for Fantasy owners, but you should plan on handcuffing McCoy and Williams whenever possible. And Williams is also worth drafting on his own with a mid-round pick because there's plenty of upside every time he touches the ball as he showed during his rookie campaign.
The Giants backfield is going to be interesting to watch in training camp because there are a lot of mouths to feed, but really the only names to know are Perkins, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and maybe Andre Williams. Orleans Darkwa and Bobby Rainey are also on the roster, but they aren't expected to be a factor coming into the season. Jennings closed last season on a high note with 100 total yards or a touchdown in each of his final four games, but at 31 he could be considered somewhat of a liability, which he was through 12 games in 2015. Vereen has his role as a third-down back, and Williams could be depth and potentially play in short-yardage situations. But Perkins might be able to do everything for this backfield, and the Giants are already talking about him as a complete running back. He was a star at UCLA the past two seasons, and in 2015 he had 237 carries for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns and 30 catches for 242 yards and one touchdown. He had at least 24 catches in each of his three seasons with the Bruins, and he forced a missed tackle once every 3.2 rush attempts on average last season, which was the second-best rate among draft-eligible running backs. It would be a shock to see him start right away, but his playing time should grow during the season. And once you get past Elliott, don't be surprised if Perkins is the second-best rookie running back this season. He's worth a late-round pick in seasonal leagues and an early-round selection in all rookie-only drafts.
I'm waiting to see how this Ravens backfield competition shakes out in training camp because right now I have no idea who will be the featured rusher - if there is one. Justin Forsett, Javorius Allen and Dixon should compete for the starting job, but Baltimore also has Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West and Trent Richardson on the roster. Forsett and Allen might be drafted ahead of Dixon, but he could easily be the best of the bunch and is worth waiting for on Draft Day. He was a beast at Louisiana Tech and finished as the school's all-time leading rusher with 4,480 yards and 87 total touchdowns, which was the second-best total in NCAA history. He also holds the NCAA record of scoring a touchdown in 38 straight games. And he's versatile with 88 career receptions for 972 yards. Coach John Harbaugh has said positive things this offseason about Forsett, who broke his arm last season, and Allen was solid as a rookie when Forsett got hurt. But Dixon could have the most upside and might be the cheapest option of the three on Draft Day, and he's the one to target in the majority of leagues.
I don't want to see Adrian Peterson get hurt or miss extended action. But at some point you have to worry about even the greatest of running backs breaking down, and Peterson is 31 with eight full seasons in the NFL at 2,381 career carries and 2,619 career touches. Those numbers scream red flags for even someone as dominant as Peterson, who has overcome a torn ACL and rushed for 2,000 yards the following season and led the NFL in rushing following a nearly year-long suspension. As Fantasy owners, we're well aware that when a running back goes down on a good rushing offense there's usually a backup we all covet (see DeAngelo Williams, David Johnson and Thomas Rawls from 2015). This year, that guy could be McKinnon, and I plan to draft him in all leagues with a late-round pick. Last year, he had 52 carries for 271 yards and two touchdowns and 21 catches for 173 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 8.2 yards per catch. He would not play at Peterson's level if he stepped into a starting role, but you have to like this offense and the commitment to running the ball since Peterson was the only player with more than 300 carries in 2015. McKinnon also had better averages than Peterson (4.5 yards per carry and 7.4 yards per catch) for what it's worth, although the sample sizes aren't fair. Still, given what his production could be if he saw extended action, I would target McKinnon in all leagues this season.
It's always a good thing when talent meets opportunity, and that's the case for Shepard this season. The Giants have a big hole at the starting receiver spot opposite Odell Beckham with Rueben Randle gone, and Shepard could easily be the No. 2 receiver in 2016. Victor Cruz hasn't played since Week 6 of the 2014 season because of a patella tendon injury his knee and then a setback with his calf, and his status for this year remains unknown. Dwayne Harris is a good player, but he shouldn't be starting in the NFL. The Giants drafted Shepard in the second round from Oklahoma to be a significant contributor right away, and he can play outside and in the slot. In 2015 at Oklahoma, Shepard had 86 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he should see plenty of single coverage thanks to Beckham. Randle posted 57 catches for 797 yards and eight touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver for the Giants last season on 90 targets, and he was the No. 28 receiver in standard leagues. We'll see if Shepard can fall in that range or better, and he's worth drafting with a late-round pick in all seasonal leagues and first-round selection in rookie-only drafts. He should compete with Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson and Michael Thomas to be the No. 1 rookie receiver this year.
Let's look at the Browns receiving corps as of now, and we'll assume Josh Gordon remains suspended. They have Coleman, who was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, Marlon Moore, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Jordan Payton, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Terrelle Pryor. That's far from a who's who list of star receivers. Payton, Louis and Higgins are fellow rookies like Coleman, but he's the biggest investment the Browns made at receiver this offseason when he was drafted at No. 15 overall. Now, just because he will automatically be thrust into the No. 1 role doesn't mean he will be a Fantasy standout, but he should see plenty of targets and have the chance to play at a high level. Cleveland also will be chasing points in most games, and Coleman was a star at Baylor in 2015 with 74 catches for 1,362 yards and 20 touchdowns. You can draft Coleman with a late-round pick as your No. 4 Fantasy receiver, and he could easily be the best rookie receiver in 2016 based on his opportunity for playing time right away.
The Patriots are likely hoping Hogan becomes another Wes Welker as a player plucked from a division rival who might have been underutilized with his previous team. That was the case with Welker, who was acquired from the Dolphins in 2007 after three seasons in the NFL when he had 96 catches for 1,121 yards and one touchdown, and he averaged 11.7 yards per catch. Paired with Tom Brady, Welker went on to average 112 catches, 1,243 yards and six touchdowns over a six-year span. Hogan comes to New England this season after three years in Buffalo when he had 87 catches for 959 yards and six touchdowns, and he averaged 11.0 yards per catch. We'll find out if Hogan can be a significant contributor or just a role player, but he never had more than 61 targets in a season with the Bills. With the Patriots, he could have an expanded role depending on the health of Julian Edelman (foot) and Danny Amendola (knee/ankle), who will likely be banged up in training camp. New England is still loaded with Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Martellus Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell and Nate Washington, but Hogan is worth a flier with a late-round pick in all leagues. And if he becomes the next Welker then he was a steal in 2016 - for the Patriots and Fantasy owners.
It's easy to run away from Snead this season after the Saints drafted Thomas in the second round of the NFL Draft and signed Coby Fleener as a free agent. Those are upgrades over Marques Colston and Benjamin Watson, but it's not like Snead is being benched as the No. 2 receiver behind Brandin Cooks. Last year, Snead emerged from nowhere and finished as the No. 35 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. He had 69 catches for 984 yards and three touchdowns on 102 targets. His targets might not increase with the addition of Thomas and Fleener, but he could still be around 70 catches and 1,000 yards in this offense. And if the touchdowns rise by two or three then he's in the mix for a Top 24 receiver spot by the end of the year. Snead, who is entering his third season in the NFL, which could lead to a breakout campaign, had 11 games last year with at least six targets, and he scored at least seven Fantasy points in a standard league eight times. Now, he only had four games with double digits in Fantasy points, so that needs to improve, but you can draft him in Round 11 or 12 in most formats, which is incredible value given his potential upside.
Allen has a great chance to finish as a Top 10 Fantasy tight end this season with Luck healthy, Fleener now in New Orleans and Rob Chudzinski as the Colts offensive coordinator. Indianapolis kept Allen over Fleener since both were free agents, likely because of Allen's ability to block, but he could deliver in a big way. In 2014, Allen had plenty of positive moments with 29 catches for 395 yards and eight touchdowns, but he only had 50 targets. We expect him to remain a red-zone threat for Luck, but he should also set new career highs for catches and yards. Chudzinski has a great history of tight ends, having worked with Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow at the University of Miami and then Winslow, Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen and Jordan Cameron in the NFL. I don't expect Allen to post dominant stats, but in 2014 we saw the Colts tight ends score 18 touchdowns. Now, Jack Doyle could be the tight end who ends up doing the most damage in this offense, but that would be a stretch. Allen, if he stays healthy, could be in line for a tremendous Fantasy campaign in 2016 and is worth drafting with a late-round pick in all leagues.